Court Discusses Collateral Estoppel in Massachusetts Personal Injury Cases

In most cases in which a party alleges harm due to someone else’s negligence, the injured party is required to prove the acts or omissions of the defendant constituted a breach of the duty owed to the plaintiff. In some cases, however, a defendant who is guilty of violating a law may be deemed negligent as a matter of law. Recently, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts discussed the standard for determining whether a person found guilty of violating a criminal statute may be deemed negligent based on the violation. If you or someone you love were injured by someone during the commission of a crime, it is prudent to consult a skillful personal injury attorney to discuss what you can do to protect your interests.

The Underlying Accident

It is reported that the plaintiff’s decedent was stopped on a bridge because her car had a flat tire. She called for assistance, and while she was waiting, twenty-four vehicles passed her car. The defendant driver, however, struck the rear of the decedent’s car when he was driving a truck over the bridge, which caused the car to burst into flames. The decedent ultimately died due to injuries sustained in the collision. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant and his employer, alleging negligence and gross negligence, as well as wrongful death claims. The parties both filed motions for summary judgment. The plaintiff sought, in part, to have the defendant driver deemed negligent as a matter of law due to the fact that he was convicted of motor vehicle homicide due to negligent operation.

Collateral Estoppel in Civil Cases

Under Massachusetts law, anyone that causes the death of a person by operating a vehicle negligently can be convicted of homicide by a motor vehicle. Specifically, the statute requires the Commonwealth to show that the defendant operated a vehicle on a public road, in a negligent or reckless manner that endangered the lives and safety of other people and subsequently caused the death of another person.

Further, a plaintiff in a civil action can invoke the doctrine of collateral estoppel to bar a civil defendant who was convicted of a crime from relitigating an issue that was determined in his or her criminal matter. In the subject case, the defendant driver was convicted of homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle. Thus, the court found that his convicted established both that he was negligent and that his negligence caused the decedent’s death. As such, the court found that a jury could properly conclude that the defendant was negligent beyond a reasonable doubt, and granted the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment with regards to the issue of the defendant driver’s negligence.

Discuss Your Case with a Trusted Personal Injury Attorney

If you suffered harm due to the negligent acts of a business or another person, it is advisable to discuss your potential claims with a personal injury lawyer. The diligent personal injury attorneys of the Law Office of James K. Meehan have the skills and experience needed to handle complicated personal injury matters, and will zealously pursue the best results available under the facts surrounding your harm. We can be contacted at 508-822-6600 or through our online form to set up a confidential and complimentary meeting.